There’s been quite the brouhaha here over the last few days over the non-custodial sentences given to two women who attacked and injured a paramedic. The case, if you’re interested, was Director of Public Prosecutions v Warren & Underwood  VCC 689. The public response has been predictably savage, and remarkably unforgiving when one considers that both women were (and are) apparently remarkably damaged after lifetimes of physical and sexual abuse. Attempts by me to defend the decision were not well received –
More troubling are the proposed reforms reported in yesterday’s Age, and in particular this one –
Ambulance Employees state secretary Steve McGhie said he was given an undertaking from the Premier that he would change laws to jail people who injure emergency services workers, even if they are suffering from mental illnesses including schizophrenic episodes.
I have a stake in this: I am an “emergency services worker” when I’m not being a lawyer (State Emergency Service, Coast Guard and Red Cross). But I can’t stomach the idea that protecting me warrants effectively re-criminalizing mental illness. It is too close to punishing for the sake of punishing.
I have to agree with Pope Francis: punishments which are imposed in the hope of frightening people into compliance – public punishments – are a hammer that makes every problem look like a nail:
a widespread conviction has taken root in recent decades that public punishment can resolve the most disparate social problems, as if completely different diseases could be treated with the same medicine. This is not so much about trust in some social function traditionally attributed to public punishment, as about the belief that it is possible that such punishment can obtain those benefits that would demand the application of a different type of social and economic policy as well as social inclusion.
A politician grubbing for votes by coming down hard on criminals is merely acting in a tawdry and predictable manner. One who does so by coming down hard on the ill is repulsive.